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WTA Championships: Azarenka, Radwanska advance to Istanbul semi-finals, Sharapova tops White Group

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radwanska_20110788There were no surprises at the WTA Championships in Istanbul on Friday with the top seeds booking their pre-appointed spots in the semi-finals of the year end tournament. Maria Sharapova, who had already advanced to the semis courtesy her two early wins, took top spot in the White Group courtesy of a 6-0, 6-3 thumping of a hapless Samantha Stosur. The other two spots were far from settled, but top seed Victoria Azarenka ensured that she would end the year as world no.1 by battling her way past Chinese superstar Li Na in straight sets, 7-6, 6-3. Taking up the final spot in the semi-finals was the world no.4 Agnieszka Radwanska, who came through a high quality contest against Sara Errani, 6-7, 7-5, 6-4.

Sharapova wasted little time dismissing the challenge of Aussie Sam Stosur, who lost her second straight love set, having dropped the final set of her match against Sara Errani as well without taking a game. Sharapova wrapped up the opener in just 21 minutes for the loss of just 5 points before Stosur showed some semblance of resisting, keeping the second set close for initial stages. Sharapova though finished like she started, winning 4 games on the bounce to improve her record in the White Group to a perfect 3-0.

Sharapova would have had a chance to replace Victoria Azarenka as the world no.1 had Azarenka lost her match to Li Na today. With the two women coming into that contest holding a 4-4 record against each other there was every chance of that happening. Li went up an early break and took a 4-2 lead before Azarenka was able to force the set into a tiebreak. The world no.1 clinched it 7-4 and there was no stopping her once she was ahead as she booked her gritted out a tough win to book her place in the semi-finals.

Azarenka will take on Sharapova in what should be a blockbuster semi-final on Saturday. Despite her patchy form, the Belarusian will feel she can knock off the Russian diva, having won 6 of their last 8 meetings, including all of those on hard courts.

Meanwhile, Agnieszka Radwanska's fitness and mental fortitude was put to the test for not the first time this week, but the plucky Pole who has really taken her game up a notch this year, showed she is ready to play with the big girls, grinding out a hard fought 3½ hour win against French Open runner-up Sara Errani. An incredible contest which witnessed over 100 clean winners being hit saw the Italian go ahead 7-6, 5-4 before Radwanska won three games on the trot to level the match at a set apiece.

Agnieszka carried forward the momentum into the decider, making it 6 games in a row to take a 3-0 lead before Errani got her second wind to reduce the deficit to 5-4 before the Pole served out the match to book her place in the final four.

Radwanska now has the daunting task of taking on Serena Williams, a player she has never beaten, and to whom she lost in this year's Wimbledon final. However, with no one really expecting Radwanska to pose a real threat to Williams in that match, she can play without fear and go out and try to express herself on court, and that might just be the tonic for her to be competitive with the American superstar.

Round Robin - Red Group
(1) Victoria Azarenka (BLR) d. (8) Li Na (CHN) 76(4) 63

Round Robin - White Group
(2) Maria Sharapova (RUS) d. (9) Samantha Stosur (AUS) 60 63
(4) Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) d. (7) Sara Errani (ITA) 67(6) 75 64

File Photograph by Dan Galbraith